Friday 23 February 2018

'It's frustrating, yes, but I have no right to moan'

Zebo insists he has no issue with Schmidt snub as he targets Ireland recall

Munster’s Simon Zebo has admitted he must improve his workrate at the breakdown
Munster’s Simon Zebo has admitted he must improve his workrate at the breakdown
Munster's Dave Kilcoyne and Simon Zebo during squad training
David Kelly

David Kelly

Hardly a grilling, more like chilling. But still Simon Zebo exhales a breath of relief when it's all over.

In relief, you suspect, more than anything else. This was his time to set the record straight.

Whether unwittingly or not, Zebo's name was catapulted into cause celebre territory this spring.

While he scored tries freely against all-comers in the Pro12, all the while Ireland trundled triumphantly into the Six Nations winning enclosure without him, a success predicated upon little details, not grand gestures.

Zebo's untimely second foot injury in less than a year had healed by the start of the campaign; what hadn't healed, it seemed, was a less than healthy relationship with the national coach, who remained unmoved by his availability as February beckoned.

The simple reason was that Joe Schmidt had already advanced his ready-made replacements, a process accelerated by injury to a host of other back-three contenders, including Craig Gilroy, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls.

Zebo was just one of a number.

But it was his name that rugby followers kept on coming back to, particularly when he was in a rich vein of try-scoring form for Munster.

"Maybe a little bit around breakdown," he answers, when pushed as to what precisely Schmidt had told him to improve when the pair last spoke at the end of last month.

We are hardly in the realms of conspiracy theory here.

"I'd be the first to say I'd be inefficient there and sometimes not do too much activity at the breakdown. Having said that, I'm not a Donncha O'Callaghan or a Paul O'Connell in that I don't hit as many rucks as they do," he adds.

"At the same time, when the ball does go wide, I need to be just as efficient as they are in securing ball. Going forward, I'd have no issues and I'd back myself every time. But there are definitely little parts I can iron out so I can be a better player."

So he bears no grudges. In any event, that Andrew Trimble had answered so resolutely to Schmidt's pinpoint powerpoint presentation to arguably become Ireland's player of the tournament informs Zebo's reasoning, if not entirely leavening the frustration.

"It has been frustrating," admits the ebullient Corkman, now ever so slightly tinged by a veneer of unaffected humility, the obvious by-product of having to avoid a slew of misfortune's well-timed slings and arrows.

"At the start of the year, I really needed game time and I was just happy to be back out on the pitch.

"I had a few conversations with Joe and he was just chatting about things I needed to work on. Slowly but surely they are starting to come right.


"I can't really have too many complaints really because the boys, Dave Kearney and Andrew, have been going so well for the nearly four months that I've been out.

"I didn't really expect to jump back in. But seeing the lads' success... on the one side being delighted for their success and for my friends, but on the other side, you kinda want to be a part of that."

It was no surprise that a fan club of sorts clamoured for his inclusion, even beyond the parochial mindset down south; after all, as 2013 opened in Cardiff, one audacious flick ignited the imaginations of so many.

That tournament was jettisoned by the first of two untimely foot injuries – against England – and, although he arrived as a cameo character on the Lions tour, the second setback ruled him out of November and, as it transpired, this Six Nations too.

Presenting the hackneyed rollercoaster metaphor seems to be a tad too decorous.

"It's been a bit annoying, getting a couple of foot injuries," he reflects. "But hopefully that's the end of it. Mentally I don't have too much to deal with ... I'd be a very confident individual and I'd back my ability more than anybody.

"These things happen, they've happened to the best of players. I'm able to accept that. That's what you sign up to when you become a professional rugby player. You're going to get injured.

"It's just unfortunate that I've had two injuries in the same place in such a short space of time at the beginning of my international career. But there's still plenty of time for me.

"I've only just turned 24, so hopefully I'll be able to mend things and get back to where I want to pretty soon.

"There's never been too many dark moments. None at all. I never really let myself get that way. You have to put things in perspective. There's an awful lot of people who are in worse-off situations than me who have a real right to moan.

"For me to be giving out about not getting picked on a team when there are far worse problems in the world is a bit rich. I don't let myself get too down about it.

"As long as I'm playing for some team, Munster or Ireland or whoever, I still try to play with a smile on my face. That's why I started playing."

Typically, a smile naturally accompanies a thought far removed from conceit. He hasn't brought a trumpet so, when asked to declare his desperation to return for the summer Argentina tour, Zebo couches his language diplomatically.

"I'm desperate to win trophies for Munster," he explains softly. "My performances for Munster will hopefully lead to me being on the plane to Argentina."

After we speak, he tweets a picture of himself and his girlfriend enjoying the Kinsale sun.

This is who he is; but he can still tweak his game and let the sunshine in. Only now he must tailor his character to ensure he remains just as eloquent on the field of play.

A packed Dublin amphitheatre would be a fine place to remind Schmidt that, as well as attending to detail, his restive, urgent spirit can remain gloriously unfettered.

Irish Independent

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